Screwdrivers and screw types


Torx and hex socket rails

For your basic maintenance tasks, let’s look at three categories of tools that you will use virtually every time you work on your bike:
1. Wrenches
2. Screwdrivers
3. Pliers

We’ll cover these categories in specific articles. Don’t forget to check out the post “Price vs Quality” (regarding tools). We’ve already covered wrenches. Let’s carry on with screwdrivers.  In addition to this article, I also have a video covering screwdrivers on my YouTube channel.

Often smaller fasteners on motorcycles will have screw heads, rather than hexagon heads. You’ll need a set of screwdrivers to remove these fasteners.

Again, there is a great number of different screws heads, but we’ll focus on the most common.

Slotted head

The first screw was developed back in the Middle Ages. The first mass-produced screws had a “common” blade, “flat-blade”, “slot-head”, “straight”, “flat”, “flat-tip” or “flat-head”. These names all refer to the same screw head shape and require a flat blade screwdriver to drive them:

slotted screwdrivers

This screw head is becoming less common as modern screw heads can be assembled quicker and tightened more accurately with automated assembly tools on production lines. You might still find them around on older bikes, so a set that includes a range of slotted screwdrivers will be useful.

Phillips head

The most common screw head found is the Phillips head screw. These were developed in the 1930s for auto manufacture and are still very common. They have a cross-shaped recess in the screw head, and the driver has a matching shape. The design forces the driving tool to “cam out” of the fastener (disengage from the head) under high torque loads. This often causes damage to the fastener head when the user is heavy handed.

phillips head

Phillips head screws and screwdrivers are classified by a number size. Numbers #2 and #3 are often found on motorcycles. The matching screwdriver will likely be marked on the handle with the size. These screwdrivers are essential and you will use them frequently. Typical sets will contain #0, #1, #2 and #3. The quality of the steel and heat treatment of the tip will determine how long these last. Purchase the best ones you can afford.

You might find some smaller screws in both slotted and Phillips head, and a set of “jewellers screwdrivers” might come in useful too:

jewellers screwdrivers

JIS B1012

In the late 1960’s Japanese equipment started appearing with a screw head that looked like Phillips – but was not. Their local standards organization (“JIS”) had released their standard JIS B1012 “Cross recesses for screws”. Sometimes there is a small dot stamped into the screw head to identify it is JIS standard, not Phillips. Here is a useful side-by-side comparison of Philips, JIS and Pozidrive (which I’ve not discussed since I haven’t seen them on a motorcycle):

screws jis vs phillips vspozidriv
Image courtesy of:

While it is a cross form screw, the dimensions of the recess are such that the driving tool is not designed to cam out. As a result, the use of a Phillips screwdriver in a JIS B1012 screw might lead to screw damage.

Of course, in theory, this is all incredibly important. However, I’ve yet to find a JIS screwdrivers on the rack in a local tool store. If you search your favourite online marketplace, you will find them. So if you are very pedantic about, for example, your early CB750, then, definitely find a set of JIS screwdrivers and add them to your collection alongside the Phillips screwdrivers.

Hexagonal head

On some fasteners you might find a hexagonal (six-sided) recess in the head of the screw. If you’ve used these fasteners, you might agree the chance of the tool slipping out of the head is much less with this design, and that is one of its major benefits.

To drive a hex-shaped recess you need a hex shaped tool. This can be done in a variety of ways.

  1. A hex “key”
  2. A hex insert bit
  3. A hex socket that fits on a wrench

5mm hex key, insert and socket

A hex key is perfectly acceptable (and economical) method of driving these fasteners. You might find that the other options allow you to do the job faster.


The Torx screw head was designed in the late 1960s and its 6-point star shaped head was suited to mass production fastening tools. The shape tends to draw the tool into the head under load, greatly reducing the chance the tool will “cam out” (disengage with the screw head) at high torque values (unlike a Phillips head, where the screwdriver will slip out of the head at high torque).

Torx driver

This fastener design is becoming more prevalent, and from personal experience with Harley Davidson brake disc retaining bolts, I can confirm they can be done up very tightly (to the extent I occasionally break the tool – which gets expensive!)

Depending on the model of motorcycle that you own, you might find Torx fasteners and therefore have a need to purchase similar tools. Similarly to the hex fasteners, you can purchase key, insert bits, or Torx sockets.

In both hex and Torx cases, I personally prefer the socket versions. I feel like I can get much better leverage on a socket handle (as opposed to the key), and the insert bits are only available in the smaller sizes. Here are the hex and Torx socket sets I have collected over the years, and these serve me well:

Torx and hex socket rails

Use of screwdrivers

With all screw designs, the driving tool must have constant force applied to keep the tool engaged with the head of the screw. Then the operator must apply a twisting force to the tool to either loosen or tighten the screw.

If the force keeping the tool engaged to the screw relaxes, but the twisting force remains, then the tool will often “cam out”. With good quality tools (alloy steel and heat treated), the slip of the tool out of the screw will tend to damage the screw head.

We aim to prevent damage to the screw head where possible. Occasionally it is unavoidable. If a steel screw is fitted into aluminium, corrosion can cause them to lock together very tightly. Removing screws in this situation will be the subject of a later article.

When dealing with stubborn screws, I find I orient myself to place some bodyweight over the screwdriver to help keep it pressed into the screw head. Then I slowly and gently apply a twisting force to break the screw loose.


All of these tools are made of some sort of metal. Wrenches and sockets will generally be plated so prevent rust, but screwdrivers and pliers may not have this protection.

WD40 is an excellent cleaner and protective agent. If you are maintaining and modifying motorcycles, you might find you use a lot of WD40. It is cheaper to purchase it in a bulk pack and decant it into a spray bottle. Put your oily tools on a rag, spray them with WD40 and wipe them clean. If they happen to be wet from outdoor maintenance or a breakdown by the side of the road, wipe them down with WD40 as soon as you can.

If you start with some wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers, you will have the basis for motorcycle maintenance and customising.

In addition, you’ll have that sense of satisfaction that you “did it yourself”, learnt something about your motorcycle, and are on the journey to your own custom ride!

About the author 

Matt McLeod

I teach people how to build custom motorcycles by helping them build skills and confidence with my coaching, articles and training videos.
I provide better technical information for custom motorcycle builders. And I shorten the learning curve getting you there.

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